The Pequod Review:
Winesburg, Ohio is one of the great modern short story collections, a series of twenty-two intimate and dreamlike sketches describing the inner thoughts of small-town Americans. Sherwood Anderson’s stories are written in spare prose, but his characters reveal deep loneliness and unspoken desires — emotions hidden under their polite and stoic Midwestern facades. There is a shy older man (Wing Biddlebaum) who once used his active hands to inappropriately touch schoolboys when he was a teacher in Pennsylvania. An unhappy and withdrawn middle-aged woman (Elizabeth Willard) channels her hopes for a happier life through her son George, an aspiring journalist. A doctor writes down his thoughts on small pieces of paper, only to throw them away.
Based partly on Anderson’s own childhood growing up in the northern Ohio town of Clyde, the stories are respectful and sympathetic to their flawed characters. Here for example is Anderson’s gentle description of the “gnarled” Doctor Reefy:
The story of Doctor Reefy and his courtship of the tall dark girl who became his wife and left her money to him is a very curious story. It is delicious, like the twisted little apples that grow in the orchards of Winesburg. In the fall one walks in the orchards and the ground is hard with frost underfoot. The apples have been taken from the trees by the pickers. They have been put in barrels and shipped to the cities where they will be eaten in apartments that are filled with books, magazines, furniture, and people. On the trees are only a few gnarled apples that the pickers have rejected. They look like the knuckles of Doctor Reefy's hands. One nibbles at them and they are delicious. Into a little round place at the side of the apple has been gathered all of its sweetness. One runs from tree to tree over the frosted ground picking the gnarled, twisted apples and filling his pockets with them. Only the few know the sweetness of the twisted apples.
If there is a flaw to Winesburg, it is that the stories often start to feel repetitive, in large part because so many of the characters have similar temperaments. But Anderson’s writing is of such consistently high quality that he is nonetheless able to elevate the stories to the level of great poetry and even tragedy.